Sunday, January 23, 2011

2011 Mountain Mist 50K

Finish #4 in the books for the infamous Mountain Mist 50K on the rugged trails of Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, AL. Bottom line for me is a finish time of 5:41:39 (course PR by 16min), 53d overall out of 274 finishers (previous best finish was 77th place). Although great portions of the course get worse every passing year, this year’s ice and snow kept the muddiness down, at least for front half of the pack, and overall speed better than normal. I felt pretty good in the first half, moving quite well down Warparth Ridge, etc for a split time of about 2:48 at Fearn Drive (at least 10min faster than norms in 2007-2008). Second half went well, but I was struggling for to keep the pace going crossing over Monte Sano Blvd and into McKay Hollow. I knew was on course PR time, so abandoned any though of ‘enjoying’ the race and pushed the suffering level quite hard. Usually I can come off of Rest Shelter and drop the hammer, was a tad more subdued this year coming onto the plateau. But overall results were good, don’t think I could’ve squeezed more than 2-3 more minutes of my time today.

The really lovely thing about this race is the start is a mere 10min drive from my house. So I actually slept in, waking up 0630, prepped a mug of green tea (to clear the system out an hour hence), put on my race gear, headed up to Monte Sano. I got to lodge aboit 0700, and jawboned with some my fellow Fleet Feet Racing Team comrades, then Christian Griffith, Tony Gonzalez and other from the GUTS/Atlanta crew.

Race started right on time at 0800. Breaking the race down by sections, I came around the Mtn Mist Trail portion with steady pace, right behind Christy Scott most of the way. Pushed some fuel and electrolytes while up on the Gravel Road and Family Bike Trail.

After A/S #1, I took my foot off the brakes and let it loose down Warpath Ridge all the way out the Powerlines, passing 10-15 people on the way and taking the home court advantage while I could. The nice part (or sometimes worst) aspect of coming out on to the powerlines is that, with a quick glance to the south, I can see my house in the distance and contemplate how easy it would be just to head home! But non of that, turned north, worked the wide open spaces under the Powerlines, and back into the single track trail. The climb up K2 went fine, but took a few minutes along the Goat Trail for my legs to come back.

I blew right through A/S #2 at 3 Benches, still had plenty of water from the race start. Splits along Keith and Logan Point Trail probably a little slower, did not see much of anybody all the way around to Stone Cuts and into the Sinks. Had to make a pitstop back up on the Mtn Mist trail before heading to Cold Springs and Fearn Drive, probably cost me an extra 5min there.

I moved steadily to Fearn Drive, split was about 2:48, fastest I have ever gotten there. Filled up water bottle and boogied right out and into the Land Trust. My legs were starting to feel it some by now, but also moving into a section of the course I knew well and could run. Steadily passed 4-5 more folks over High Trail, Bluffline and R/R Bed trails, then passed Jon Elmore in the Alms House area (Jon was having a rough time, but rallied well after Monte Sano Blvd to finish strong). Swallowed down some Perpetuem just before 3 Caves, then made the left turn up the Waterline. Climbed well and steady, passing Marty Coleman and then Sally Brooking, but not going up that section with as much intensity as I have been about to generate in the past; went up better even during the Reverse Double Mountain Mist stunt two years ago. But oh well, topped out fine, gotten a shuffle going again on the way to Monte Sano Blvd (the slowness captured quite alarmingly in Marcus Farris’ excellent video, see 1:50 mark).

I crossed over Monte Sano with Sally Brooking right on my tail, she ended up pushing me the rest of the race. Got an OK rhythm going again heading towards Natural Well, but legs not allowing too fast a tempo any more, especially in the rocks. Moved fairly well down into McKay Hollow, though the trail has more rocks, tree roots and washouts than I can ever remember (a sure sign of my old age). Couldn’t move all that great across the final stretch of Natural Well trail, but turned onto the McKay Hollow trail around 5hr mark and did run well along the Slush Mile, mentally forcing myself to pick up my legs and drive the body over the final miles. The climb up Rest Shelter was difficult as usual; in training I had been able to run nearly all of it, but had to power-hike about half of it today. But stayed mentally focused and kept pushing, really stretching myself to get as much of a PR as I could. Topped out on Rest Shelter hill with Sally right on my ass, greeted warmly by Dink Taylor ("only 1.9mi of candy-ass trail to go, and you got a 54-year old woman right behind you!"), swallowed a cup of coke and willed my legs to get going again. First 1/4mi out of the aid station was tough, but finally got a rhythm going and ran well all the way to the finish. Fortunately, Sally stopped to finish sipping her beer, or she probably would have beaten me! Made the left turn towards the lodge and took it the house in 5:41:39.

Took a few minutes to gather my wits, down a recovery drink and walk around a few minutes to let my stomach settle down. Jawboned with folks from the local area and GUTS crew from Atlanta, wandering back-forth from the warmth of the lodge to the finish area outside to greet folks coming in. After a half-hour or so, went to the food line and downed some pizza, and chatted with DeWayne, Rob, James Falcon, Dave Riddle, Blake Thompson, and many others. Waited another 90min to see Tim Kerstetter finish, then to see Carol Eaton come across the line for her Fleet Feet Slam finish.

Got home around 1700 and showered up. Was considering the post-race party at Duffy’s, always a good time. But when I sat down on the couch for a second, Luke (my youngest) curled up in my lap and promptly fell asleep. And you know, I just stayed right there with him for the next hour, comfortable and warm; a nice way to wrap up the day.

Father-Son Backpacking/Camping Trip to Sipsey Wilderness

For Matthew's 11th birthday, I took him on a 2-day, 1-night backpacking expedition in the Sipsey Wilderness over the weekend of 15-16 Jan 2011. The trip was arranged via Born Wild Ministries, with 8 Father-Son pairs out in the snow and wilds. Matthew was excited as all get-out in the preceding days, has been bugging me to go camping for a while now. Well alright kid, you wanna sleep outside, we can arrange that!

We left home 0700 on Saturday morning, linked up with other Father-Son pairs in Big Cove then Madison, and drove to the Bankhead National Forest and Sipsey area. It took about an hour to get vehicles shuttled into the right places (left one vehicle on the east side, or exit point, other vehicles drove around to west side, entry point). But we finally shoved off from the Thompson Creek Trailhead around 11am. And yes, there was still plenty of snow hanging around

The group followed 6 mile route along the headwaters of the Sipsey River to a sandy, riverside campsite at the intersection of Sipsey River and Bee Branch. After setting up camp, Matthew and I explored north up the Bee Branch canyon area until sunset around 5pm. Boiled some water and Matthew got his first taste of mac-n-cheese dehydrated meal, for which he was so excited he managed to overlook its processed taste! Rest of the evening was spent staring at Hiker TV (i.e. campfire) and drying out our shoes and socks from trudging through the snow.

After a very cold night (got down to about 25deg F), Matthew and I got up on Sunday morning around 0630. Spent some time teaching him how to break down the gear, re-pack his backpack, and use the small stove to boil water. Hot oatmeal around the campfire was certainly welcome at that point.

Leaving the campsite around 0930, the group went north along Bee Branch Canyon to find the falls along the east branch and view the largest tree in Alabama (a 500-year old, 150 foot tall Poplar). The view along the canyon walls was pretty cool, about 300-400' deep with huge icicles hanging all along the walls. The boys had a marvelous time standing underneath the falls and seeing all the ice.

After another 6mi of hard hiking, we exited the trail back near Borden Creek. Matthew was a champ,; with shoulder hurting and tired from the pack, he kept mentally tough and steadily hiked out of there, never complained one iota or stopped for anything. Took us about 90min to shuttle vehicles into place and load all the people packs.

The group took a lunch stop in Moulton at Pizza Hut, and we all got home around 1800. But wait, one more teaching point for Matt as we first pulled out the sleeping bags and tent to air them out for the night! (Can't quite head to the shower yet). Overall, it was a perfect opportunity to let Matthew try overnight backpacking.